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Theodore Roosevelt captain followed in footsteps of ship’s namesake by writing bombshell letter

Navy officials are finding themselves in controversial waters in the wake of Thursday’s announcement that the service was relieving Capt. Brett Crozier of his command of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, a decision made following the leak of a four-page letter Crozier penned pleading for U.S. assistance to help stymie the spread of COVID-19 on the 4,800-person ship.

“This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do,” Crozier wrote in the letter, which was first obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle. “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors.”

Crozier’s letter was sent via a “non-secure, unclassified” email that included at least “20 to 30” recipients in addition to the captain’s immediate chain of command, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly told reporters Thursday.

It was an act that “raised alarm bells unnecessarily,” Modly said. “It undermines our efforts and the chain of command’s efforts to address this problem, and creates a panic and this perception that the Navy’s not on the job, that the government’s not on the job, and it’s just not true.”

Crozier’s firing sparked a maelstrom of criticism, with a mother of one Roosevelt sailor telling Navy Times she was “devastated” by the captain’s dismissal, adding that Crozier “risked his own livelihood. That is so hard to do. Not a lot of men, not a lot of women, not a lot of people out there who would do that for others.”

Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that the aircraft carrier’s namesake was once entangled in a similar conundrum, noted retired Navy commander Ward Carroll in Proceedings Magazine.

As the Spanish-American War drew to a close in the summer of 1898, the Santiago de Cuba-based men of the U.S. Army Fifth Corps — Colonel Theodore Roosevelt and his famed Rough Riders among them — encountered one of their toughest challenges yet: Malaria and yellow fever.

Lt Col. Theodore Roosevelt in the uniform of the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry Regiment (Rough Riders), 1898. (Alamy via Library of Congress)

Lt Col. Theodore Roosevelt in the uniform of the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry Regiment (Rough Riders), 1898. (Alamy via Library of Congress)

In all, nearly 4,000 of the 4,270 men in Fifth Corps would contract severe illnesses. Many were on the verge of death.

“The soldier who storms the heights and wins them is a hero in the world’s eyes,” war correspondent Kit Coleman wrote from the troop transport ship SS Comal, a vessel tasked with ushering the ill soldiers to Florida. “Uncle Sam’s boys did that; but far more to the credit of the American soldier is the uncomplaining way in which he bore that which was inflicted by the blundering of his own people.”

Rife with disease, “the eight divisional commanders, including Roosevelt, were convinced that if they remained in Cuba, Fifth Corps would be wiped out,” Carroll writes.

The dire situation prompted senior officers to meet with Maj. Gen. William R. Shafter, commander of the Fifth Corps, to recommend that troops be withdrawn from Cuba posthaste. That result of that meeting — whether Shafter agreed or not — remains unknown.

Regardless of the outcome, the commanders were compelled to put their request into writing –– a task that fell to Roosevelt because, as the only non-general among the senior officer group, had less to lose career-wise. The eventual U.S. president drafted what is now known as the infamous Round-Robin Letter:

MAJOR-GENERAL SHAFTER. SIR: In a meeting of the general and medical officers called by you at the Palace this morning we were all, as you know, unanimous in our views of what should be done with the army. To keep us here, in the opinion of every officer commanding a division or a brigade, will simply involve the destruction of thousands.

There is no possible reason for not shipping practically the entire command North at once. Yellow-fever cases are very few in the cavalry division, where I command one of the two brigades, and not one true case of yellow fever has occurred in this division, except among the men sent to the hospital at Siboney, where they have, I believe, contracted it. But in this division there have been 1,500 cases of malarial fever. Hardly a man has yet died from it, but the whole command is so weakened and shattered as to be ripe for dying like rotten sheep, when a real yellow-fever epidemic instead of a fake epidemic, like the present one, strikes us, as it is bound to do if we stay here at the height of the sickness season, August and the beginning of September.

Quarantine against malarial fever is much like quarantining against the toothache. All of us are certain that as soon as the authorities at Washington fully appreciate the condition of the army, we shall be sent home. If we are kept here it will in all human possibility mean an appalling disaster, for the surgeons here estimate that over half the army, if kept here during the sickly season, will die.

This is not only terrible from the standpoint of the individual lives lost, but it means ruin from the standpoint of military efficiency of the flower of the American army, for the great bulk of the regulars are here with you. The sick list, large though it is, exceeding four thousand, affords but a faint index of the debilitation of the army. Not ten per cent are fit for active work.

Six weeks on the North Maine coast, for instance, or elsewhere where the yellow-fever germ cannot possibly propagate, would make us all as fit as fighting-cocks, as able as we are eager to take a leading part in the great campaign against Havana in the fall, even if we are not allowed to try Porto Rico. We can be moved North, if moved at once, with absolute safety to the country, although, of course, it would have been infinitely better if we had been moved North or to Puerto Rico two weeks ago. If there were any object in keeping us here, we would face yellow fever with as much indifference as we faced bullets. But there is no object.

The four immune regiments ordered here are sufficient to garrison the city and surrounding towns, and there is absolutely nothing for us to do here, and there has not been since the city surrendered. It is impossible to move into the interior. Every shifting of camp doubles the sick rate in our present weakened condition, and, anyhow, the interior is rather worse than the coast, as I have found by actual reconnoissance.

Our present camps are as healthy as any camps at this end of the island can be. I write only because I cannot see our men, who have fought so bravely and who have endured extreme hardship and danger so uncomplainingly, go to destruction without striving so far as lies in me to avert a doom as fearful as it is unnecessary and undeserved.

Yours respectfully, THEODORE ROOSEVELT, Colonel Commanding Second Cavalry Brigade.

Signed by all the officers, the letter was delivered to Shafter and meant for delivery to the Army Headquarters in Washington.

Perhaps fearing inaction on the side of Shafter, a copy of the letter also found its way to an Associated Press correspondent –– allegedly at the hands of Roosevelt — who cabled immediately to AP headquarters.

The letter was published that same day on August 4.

When the news broke stateside, President William McKinley was indignant, requesting that “every possible effort [be] made to ascertain the name of the person responsible for its publication.”

An F/A-18E Super Hornet flies above the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt. (Cmdr. Damon Loveless/Navy)

An F/A-18E Super Hornet flies above the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt. (Cmdr. Damon Loveless/Navy)

McKinley was close to concluding peace negotiations with Spain and sought to maintain a military presence in Cuba until that end was achieved. He was cognizant, however, that public sentiment would turn against him if he kept the troops in Cuba. To counteract the effect of the Round-Robin Letter, the men of the Fifth Corps were hastily recalled to Long Island, New York.

Secretary of War Russell A. Alger insisted the letter had nothing to do with the return of the Fifth Corps, “however, [Alger] was on record as previously having asserted that no ships were available” to transport the men back from Cuba, Carroll notes in Proceedings.

Similar to Modly’s press conference Thursday, Shafter decried the leak, saying, “it would be impossible to exaggerate the mischievous and wicked effects of the ‘Round Robin.’ It afflicted the country with a plague of anguish and apprehension.”

In his memoir, “The Rough Riders,” Roosevelt offers a contrasting perspective, stating that keeping the Army “in Santiago meant its entirely purposeless destruction.”

In going over the heads of his immediate chain of command, Roosevelt’s leaked letter to the Associated Press was eventually credited with cutting through the red tape of bureaucracy and saving the lives of 4,000 men.

Despite the hasty dismissal of Capt. Crozier, the large crowd of Theodore Roosevelt sailors who gathered Thursday to chant his name and cheer as he departed the hulking ship for the last time may indicate how fondly the skipper’s actions will be viewed in the years to come.

Military Times editor J.D. Simkins contributed to this report.

He Led a Top Navy Ship. Now He Sits in Quarantine, Fired and Infected.

Eric Schmitt and John Ismay
 

 
a man wearing a hat talking on a cell phone: Capt. Brett E. Crozier, who was removed last week from command of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, addressing the crew in San Diego in January. © Alexander Williams/US Navy, via Reuters Capt. Brett E. Crozier, who was removed last week from command of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, addressing the crew in San Diego in January. By Sunday, friends said, he had come down with the coronavirus himself.

The military has long adhered to a rigid chain of command and tolerated no dissent expressed outside official channels. Capt. Brett E. Crozier, the skipper of the aircraft carrier, knew he was up against those imperatives when he asked for help for nearly 5,000 crew members trapped in a petri dish of a warship in the middle of a pandemic.

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But colleagues say the mistake that could cost Captain Crozier his career was charging headlong into the Trump administration’s narrative that it had everything under control.

Pentagon officials said that although President Trump never ordered Captain Crozier dismissed, he was displeased with the captain’s actions and let the Navy know — a sentiment Mr. Trump made very public on Saturday when he lashed out at the captain.

Even so, the Navy’s top brass clashed about what to do.

Adm. Michael M. Gilday, the chief of naval operations, privately urged against dismissal and argued that, per usual Navy procedures, an investigation into what went wrong on the Roosevelt should be allowed to play out. But the acting Navy secretary, Thomas B. Modly, overruled the Navy’s top admiral, saying Captain Crozier had cracked under pressure.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said on Sunday that he supported Mr. Modly’s decision. The Washington Post first reported the differing opinions among Navy officials.

Navy officials acknowledged on Sunday that tensions between Captain Crozier and his immediate boss, Rear Adm. Stuart P. Baker, the commander of a multiship task force including the Roosevelt, most likely complicated the Navy’s response to the viral outbreak and prompted the captain to send a four-page letter pleading for help. Officials said the letter, sent as an unclassified email, went only to other Navy personnel, but it leaked to the news media last week.

Indeed, the Navy hinted at such tensions in a statement on Sunday that the findings of the investigation into what happened aboard the Roosevelt and the chain of command in the Pacific, including its “command climate,” would be submitted to Admiral Gilday on Monday.

According to those who have known Captain Crozier for more than three decades, the picture Mr. Modly paints of their friend and classmate is not one they recognize.

Jeff Craig, who recently retired from the Navy after serving as a captain, including a tour as second in command of the Roosevelt, worked extensively with Captain Crozier after attending the Naval Academy with him. Captain Crozier became a helicopter pilot, Mr. Craig said, earning a nickname that he retained even after he transitioned to flying jets and ultimately to commanding a carrier: Chopper.

“Chopper is one of the best people I have ever known, both professionally and personally,” Mr. Craig, who now works with Amazon’s air cargo division, said in an interview Sunday.

On Sunday, Captain Crozier was in quarantine in Guam, the American territory in the Pacific, dealing with a dry, raspy cough, say people who know him. At least 400 sailors from the Roosevelt who have tested negative for the virus are expected to be sent from the ship to hotels, joining 625 other sailors who have already tested negative.

It is not known when Captain Crozier’s diagnosis was made, or whether the Navy was aware of his infection when he was removed from command, if the medical results came before his punishment.

Friends and colleagues say Captain Crozier, 50, is at peace with a decision that most likely ended a career that vaulted him from the United States Naval Academy to the prestigious job as captain of one of the Navy’s 11 aircraft carriers.

Captain Crozier, a native of Santa Rosa, Calif., started his career flying helicopters. He was then accepted for an exceptionally rare transfer to fly fixed-wing jet aircraft, eventually rising to command an F/A-18 Hornet fighter squadron. From there, he began climbing the nearly decade-long pipeline to command an aircraft carrier.

Captain Crozier entered the Navy’s academically daunting nuclear power school to learn how to run the twin nuclear plants at the heart of a Nimitz-class carrier like the Theodore Roosevelt. Then, he served as the second in command of the carrier Ronald Reagan, and later as the top officer of the Blue Ridge, an amphibious command ship, in Yokosuka, Japan.

But little had prepared the captain, who assumed command of the Roosevelt in November, and his crew for what happened in March.

The carrier was steaming in the western Pacific, ready to respond to any emergency involving North Korea, an emboldened Chinese Navy in the South China Sea or another emerging crisis. On March 24, two weeks after pulling out of a port call in Da Nang, Vietnam, two sailors aboard the Roosevelt tested positive for the coronavirus and were flown to Guam for treatment. Two days later, fearing the scourge of a fast-spreading virus aboard the aircraft carrier, with its cramped quarters for nearly 5,000 sailors, the ship steamed into a previously scheduled stop in Guam, which has a major Navy base and hospital.

Captain Crozier appealed to his superiors for help and Navy officials began responding, but that apparently was not enough.

The tipping point was a four-page letter dated March 30, first reported by The San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday, in which Captain Crozier laid out the dire situation unfolding aboard the warship. He described what he said were the Navy’s failures to provide him with the proper resources to combat the virus by moving sailors off the vessel.

“We are not at war,” Captain Crozier wrote. “Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.”

Back at the Pentagon was a furious Mr. Modly, who had moved up from the Navy’s No. 2 job in November after Mr. Esper demanded the resignation of his boss over his handling of the case of a Navy SEAL commando whom Mr. Trump had championed. The acting secretary told reporters last week that the Navy was rushing badly needed supplies to the Roosevelt well before the captain sent his letter to several officers in his chain of command over unclassified email. Mr. Modly said the captain had become “overwhelmed” by the crisis, and said he removed him over a loss of confidence — and not retribution for the letter. Navy officials say they do not know who leaked the letter.

But in removing from command a captain who complained that the Navy was not doing enough to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the Navy opened itself to criticism that it was insufficiently concerned about the health of its sailors. Even though Mr. Modly stressed that he welcomed blunt assessments from subordinate officers, the removal of Captain Crozier could have a chilling effect, several senior officers said.

Online, members of Captain Crozier’s Naval Academy class of 1992 have rallied behind their classmate. Members of the class, most of whom have long since left the military, say their private Facebook group is overflowing with posts and comments in support of the captain. “The volume of posts was almost exponential,” one classmate, Mark Roppolo, said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Craig, who served with Captain Crozier, said he sent his friend an email when the coronavirus started spreading in Asia this winter, wishing him well. He said he received a reply saying thank you, but had not spoken to him since he was relieved of command.

The two men were picked for the Navy’s demanding nuclear power school together in 2012, and Captain Crozier clearly excelled.

“Nuclear power school is a crucible,” Mr. Craig said. “It’s not for the faint of heart. Chopper would stay late, study on weekends, until he could not only pass the tests but had a deep understanding of the concepts behind them.”

Mr. Craig said that during his time aboard the Roosevelt in 2015, the command regularly drilled to react to battle damage, fire and other catastrophes, but never practiced what they would do if infectious disease ravaged the tight quarters of the ship.

“Chopper always had the best interests of his crew forefront. I’m sure that was the case here,” Mr. Craig said. “Chopper’s character is not prone to hasty or uneducated decision making. Anything he did was well thought out.”

Dan Goldenberg, another Naval Academy classmate of Captain Crozier’s, said that “Modly is wrong no matter what.”

“He either made the wrong call in firing Crozier, or if he made the right call, he did a terrible job of explaining it — it’s just illogical,” said Mr. Goldenberg, a retired Navy captain and special assistant to four secretaries of the Navy.

On Sunday, friends say, Captain Crozier found himself sitting alone in the “distinguished visitors quarters” on Naval Base Guam, battling a coronavirus infection, with an unknown next step in a nearly 30-year military career.

The evacuation Captain Crozier sought for his crew is now in motion — one following the rousing send-off they gave him as he left the ship last week.

Hundreds of sailors who tested negative have been evacuated from the ship, which is being disinfected with a skeleton crew aboard to operate the nuclear reactors and other critical functions.

Quarantined sailors are not allowed to leave their rooms. Their meals are placed on the floor outside their hotel doors three times a day, and alcohol and outside food are not allowed in.

These sailors have not even been given keys to their rooms. If they try sneaking out, the doors will lock behind them and they will need a military police officer — one of whom is keeping watch on every floor — to let them back in. They do have access to Wi-Fi and cable television, and are allowed to smoke on their balconies, if their room has one.

Twice a day, hospital corpsmen — the Navy’s medics — visit each room and take the sailors’ temperatures, to watch for potential fevers.

It is not an ending any of Captain Crozier’s friends and academy classmates envisioned.

“Can you imagine devoting your whole life to the Navy as Crozier has, and you make the right call to help your crew, and this happens?” Mr. Goldenberg said. “I’m floored.”

Dave Philipps contributed reporting from Colorado Springs.

Dave Philipps contributed reporting from Colorado Springs.

Internal report exposes cocaine abuse, lax testing, inside SEAL Team 10

The Little Creek, Virginia-based command conducted urinalysis testing on April 9 and April 16, 2018, nabbing six SEALs for allegedly abusing cocaine and other banned substances.

Several SEALs told investigators they previously beat the testing program by swapping out tainted urine for clean samples — but they weren’t screened very often anyway.

“I never once got piss-tested on deployment or on the road, where I was using most often,” one busted SEAL said in a statement.

“When I was in Buenaventura, Colombia, I was using cocaine. I think I was the only one of the four SEAL TEAM TEN guys using cocaine there. It was everywhere.”

The names and other details involving the SEALs are redacted in the copy of the investigation obtained by Navy Times following a Freedom of Information Act request.

Citing regulations designed to protect sailors from “an unwarranted invasion of … personal privacy,” Naval Special Warfare Command spokeswoman Cmdr. Tamara Lawrence declined to name the SEALs netted during the probe or specify the punitive actions taken against them.

But she confirmed that no SEALs went to court-martial in the wake of the urinalysis screening and four were administratively separated from the sea service.

A fifth SEAL “ingested cocaine” at his home on April 15, 2018, and killed himself the following month, the lead investigator wrote.

The sixth SEAL, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Daniel Boggs, confirmed to Navy Times that he tested positive and lost his trident.

But records provided by Boggs show an administrative board later cleared him of any wrongdoing.

Boggs, 34, said he was given the option of remaining in the Navy with a different rating, but he plans on exiting the service.

He insists that he never intentionally used cocaine and suspects he unwittingly drank from another SEAL’s cocktail that was laced with the drug.

At least one SEAL told investigators he would splice his drinks with cocaine while at a popular watering hole.

Boggs echoes other SEALs by saying no one in the team took the urinalysis screening system seriously and that he knew other operators were using drugs. But because he avoided illegal substances, he said he “never had to worry about it.”

In the wake of the probe, SEAL Team 10′s superiors at Naval Special Warfare Group 2 updated the urinalysis program, retrained those who administer the tests and hiked the frequency of the screenings, spokeswoman Lawrence said.

“We now test our operators and combat support personnel while in garrison, TDY for training and when deployed,” she said.

Lawrence also indicated that the command investigation shouldn’t be read as an indictment of the entire special warfare community.

“I will not speculate as to the reasons why these service members made the poor decisions that they did, but I will say that the actions of a few are not reflective of the SEAL code or culture,” she said.

“We have tightened our processes. We are focused on performance and we are proud of our progress.”

In the report, the lead investigator wrote that the command found no evidence that drug use by any of the SEALs led to teammates getting hurt.

But one sailor “during Tactical Ground Movement training may have unnecessarily exposed his teammates to greater training risk.”

Despite what often are hectic training and deployment cycles, the investigator who drafted the command report insisted that SEALs should never be exempted from urinalysis screening.

“On deployment, no location should be treated as too remote for testing,” the officer recommended. “No distance or cost should, by its inconvenience, implicitly sanction unlawful drug use or insulate service members from rigid adherence to Navy standards.”

But that was far from the case in mid-2018, according to the investigation. Back then, the testing program “suffered from serious deficiencies, which did not maintain accountability for substance abuse and adversely affected readiness,” the report states.

“Failure to conduct the Urinalysis Program in strict compliance with Navy standards, regulations, and guidance proved corrosive to good order and discipline by allowing drug use to continue undeterred and undetected.”

One SEAL said the system was “easy to cheat” and so there “was no real reason not to use any substance.”

“Most of the time no one had to watch urine leave the hole,” a SEAL told investigators. “It was usually a buddy that would just follow you in and let you piss.”

Because empty urine bottles were left “everywhere,” he’d also sneak one filled with clean urine into the bathroom to swap out the pee.

One SEAL said that others stashed clean urine in their gear cages to use if the command popped a surprise test.

Another described a testing system “so relaxed that once an individual saw his name on the urinalysis list, he commonly asked others to urinate for him into a spare bottle, and then set aside the urine in that bottle for later submission as a sample.”

One several occasions, another SEAL “simply dunked the specimen bottle into the urinal water and gave that fluid as a urine sample,” the report stated.

“The specimen he provided on 9 April 2018 was entirely composed of urinal water,” it added.

Another SEAL “was always worried he would ‘piss hot’ after a ‘big weekend,’ but he made no effort to protect against it,” the probe indicated.

One SEAL told investigators that he was never forced to buy his cocaine or other drugs because he received them for free “when he is at local bars.”

“Random people would offer me cocaine and I would go with them to use drugs,” he added.

One SEAL confessed he used cocaine “while cleaning his gear at his house,” according to the investigation.

Another SEAL who admitted snorting coke in Colombia also recalled years of drug abuse in the United States.

He told investigators that “he ‘partied’ with five service members from (SEAL Team 10)” during a stint at sniper school in September 2017 and also abused drugs during training for armorers in Indiana.

Back home in Virginia Beach, he’d mix cocaine into an “orange crush” drink while hanging out at The Shack, a local bar popular with SEALs, according to the report.

He described buying two of the cocktails to bring to the tavern’s restroom. Once at a stall, he’d dump cocaine into one of the drinks before returning to the bar.

“My normal process was to quickly consume the drink with the cocaine in it, then sip from the other drink so I didn’t have to carry two drinks around,” the SEAL admitted.

“If there was any ice or anything left in the cup from the Orange Crush with the cocaine, I poured the remainder into the other untouched Orange Crush and sipped from that one until the next round.”

The SEAL “stated that he never touched cocaine with his fingers because of its sticky residue” and instead “always used something to scoop the cocaine into his beverages as he stood at the urinal, such as a credit card, or he poured it directly into his ‘Orange Crush’ from the small plastic bag.”

The report indicated that the cocaine “made him very aware of his actions and very interested in conversation with members of the group” and the way he ingested the drug “at the Shack seemed well-rehearsed and calculated.”

A photo of the Virginia Beach bar's restroom shows where a Navy SEAL allegedly poured cocaine into his cocktail. (Navy)

A photo of the Virginia Beach bar’s restroom shows where a Navy SEAL allegedly poured cocaine into his cocktail. (Navy)

The SEAL’s disciplinary review board records are included in the investigation.

The team’s command master chief convened the DRB in May 2018, after the SEAL used cocaine shortly before both urinalysis sweeps, according to the records.

“Member took full responsibility for his actions and openly admits to using cocaine and (ecstasy) numerous times a week for the last three years,” the documents indicate.

He also confessed to using cocaine throughout pre-deployment training, except for a land warfare segment at Fort Chaffee Joint Maneuver Training Center in rural western Arkansas.

“Apparently, cocaine is hard to find in (Arkansas),” the board’s notes state.

The board recommended he receive non-judicial punishment consisting of reduction in rank and forfeiture of half his pay for two months.

The SEAL’s wife left him and took their three kids across the country in February 2018 due to his “continued drug use” but he also entered substance abuse treatment to get help, according to the DRB records.

Navy SEAL Boss Orders Discipline Crackdown After Embarrassing Scandals

Navy Rear Adm. Collin P. Green addresses a crowd March 3, 2017, at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida. He is now the head of Naval Special Warfare. (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Osvaldo Equite)
Navy Rear Adm. Collin P. Green addresses a crowd March 3, 2017, at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida. He is now the head of Naval Special Warfare. (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Osvaldo Equite)

Discipline trackers, intrusive leadership and routine inspections: Those are just some of the changes coming to the Naval Special Warfare community after a host of scandals led to an ethics review and a call to restore good order.

Rear Adm. Collin Green sent a four-page memo to his senior leaders this week, ordering a host of changes within the Navy SEAL community, which has been rocked by sexual assault allegations, high-profile legal battles and drug use in the ranks.

The force, Green wrote in a memo first posted by CNN, has drifted from its core values of honor, courage and commitment “due to a lack of action at all levels of Leadership.” The problems have broken down the trust SEALs have earned from their military and civilian leaders and the American people, Green said.

“All Hands will address this issue with urgent, effective and active leadership,” he said. “This drift ends now.”

Officials at Naval Special Warfare Command could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Green’s memo was issued less than three weeks after he told the force they had a problem, calling on all personnel to clean up their behavior. A platoon had just been booted from Iraq over allegations of sexual misconduct and drinking in the war zone. There were also reports of cocaine use in one SEAL team and allegations that a member of another tricked a woman into sending nude photos.

There have also been high-profile legal cases, including that of Chief Special Warfare Operators Adam Matthews and Anthony DeDolph in connection to the death of an Army staff sergeant, and Special Warfare Operator Eddie Gallagher was recently found guilty of wrongfully posing for a photo with a human casualty.

Green is cracking down on bad behavior, calling for a return to routine inspections including strict enforcement of all Navy grooming and uniform standards.

The use and distribution of all unofficial unit insignia, including logos and patches, is banned. Only those with special approval under formal Navy regulations will be allowed to stray from the standard-issue uniform items.

Green also wants to be personally informed when anyone above the rank of E-6 is accused of misbehavior. It’s possible those sailors could be reprimanded directly by the commander, raising questions about whether those cases had been mismanaged in the past.

“I reserve the right to withhold all Non-Judicial Punishment authority for those reports at my level as I deem appropriate,” Green wrote.

Within the next 30 days, Green also wants a force-wide accountability tracker that will ensure transparency of all disciplinary problems across the command. And leaders must be “intrusive,” he said, and assign only the right people to run drug tests and lead suicide prevention and sexual assault prevention and response programs.

SEALs told investigators last year they were able to skirt drug tests easily, Navy Times reported this summer, with operators referring to them as a “joke.” And at least one member of the team booted from Iraq last month was accused of sexual assault.

The Navy SEALs will retain only their best, Green said, keeping quality over quantity. He says he wants only the “right leaders that demonstrate adherence to the highest standards.”

More SEALs will be added to the ranks only after they ensure they have groomed the right number of leaders who have adequate training, certifications, and the “highest standards of character and competence,” Green said.

There will be peer reviews, legal training, lessons on naval special warfare heritage and a leadership development program.

The SEALs’ mission of taking on terrorists, rogue nations and peer adversaries is too important to have anyone compromising their values or standards, the memo states. Everyone in the command must “right the ship and remain the Force our Nation Expects,” Green said.

“We own the problem and the solution,” he said.

Lost submarine from World War I found after 103-year search

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One of World War I’s biggest mysteries has finally been solved after a 103-year search.

On Sep. 14, 1914, Australia’s first submarine, the HMAS AE1, disappeared off the coast of Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. 

It followed a successful mission to help capture what was then known as German New Guinea, and was the first loss for what was a young Royal Australian Navy. 

35 crew members went missing without a trace.

The AE1.

The AE1.

Image: Department of Defence

That’s until an expedition this week, the 13th search for the submarine, which located the AE1 on Wednesday off the coast of the Duke of York Island group, in east Papua New Guinea.  Read more…

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US F/A-18E Shoots Down Syrian Su-22 in Air-to-Air Kill

Cmdr. Patrick McKenna pilots an F/A-18E Super Hornet from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Pacific Ocean on April 18, 2017. (U.S. Navy photo/Aaron B. Hicks)
Cmdr. Patrick McKenna pilots an F/A-18E Super Hornet from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Pacific Ocean on April 18, 2017. (U.S. Navy photo/Aaron B. Hicks)
 

A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Su-22 on Sunday after the Soviet-era fighter-bomber dropped munitions near U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighters, U.S. Central Command officials confirmed.

The strike was believed to be the U.S. military’s first air-to-air kill involving manned aircraft in nearly two decades. The last known such instance was when a U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon shot down a Serbian MiG-29 in 1999 during the Kosovo campaign.

“A Syrian regime SU-22 dropped bombs near SDF fighters south of Tabqah and, in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of Coalition partnered forces, was immediately shot down by a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet,” the command said in a release.

The attack comes after pro-Syrian forces attacked SDF fighters in Ja’Din, wounding a number of SDF fighters, officials said. The town is south of Tabqah and a known area where U.S. works with Russia to deconflict the airspace.

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“Coalition aircraft conducted a show of force and stopped the initial pro-regime advance toward the SDF-controlled town,” the release said.

Following the advance on the SDF, the coalition alerted Russian counterparts to de-escalate the situation. However the forces — backed by President Bashar al-Assad — did not appear to back down, with the Su-22 entering the area, CentCom said.

“The coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend coalition or partner forces from any threat,” the command said.

While Central Command said its mission is to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, the strike against the pro-Syrian regime forces marks the fourth strike in recent weeks by the coalition.

Drone Shootdown

Most recently, a U.S. F-15E on June 8 shot down an unidentified drone deemed hostile toward coalition forces in At Tanf.

The drone, similar in size to a U.S. MQ-1 Predator, was suspected to be “pro-regime” and was struck down after it was observed dropping a munition near coalition personnel training partner forces in the fight against the Islamic State, according to Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Army Col. Ryan Dillon.

The drone strike marked the first time that forces supporting the Syrian government have attacked inside a so-called “deconfliction” zone near At Tanf, close to the Jordanian border, Dillon said.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said the pro-Syrian forces are backed by Iran, and have been knowingly operating “inside an established and agreed-upon deconfliction zone.” They are believed to be a threat to coalition forces in the region, he has said.

The deconfliction zone is an area in which U.S. and Russian forces have agreed not to operate. The zone previously applied to airspace but now includes ground territory, a defense official told Military.com last month.

First Kill

The last air-to-air kill for the F/A-18 was during the Gulf War when two F/A-18s shot down two Iraqi MiG-21s during a brief dogfight. The kill over Syria, however, is believed to be the first air-to-air kill for the E model.

The F/A-18s are flying the most combat missions in Operation Inherent Resolve, the Pentagon’s name for operations against the Islamic State, according to recent statistics provided to Military.com.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Su-22 — a variant of the Sukhoi 17 and Su-20 and heavily used throughout the Arab-Israeli conflicts and the 1982 Lebanon War — have been involved in the Assad’s Syrian war since roughly mid-2012.

The Su-22s were believed to be the aircraft behind the nerve agent attack in April against the town of Khan Sheikhoun in northwestern Syria’s Idlib governorate.

Days later, President Donald Trump ordered two Navy destroyers to launch more than 50 Tomahawk missiles on Al Shayrat base north of Damascus, where the SU-22s launched from.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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Navy Syria Russia Headlines Oriana Pawlyk

What we know about Navy destroyer’s deadly collision with a container ship in Japan

By JULIA JACOBO  Jun 19, 2017, 1:13 PM ET

The Japanese coast guard is now investigating the deadly collision between the Navy destroyer USS Fitzgerald and a container ship off the coast of Japan Saturday that killed seven U.S. sailors and injured several more.

Here’s what we know:

The collision happened early Saturday

The USS Fitzgerald collided with the Philippine-flagged container ship off the coast of Yokosuka, Japan, before 2:20 a.m. Saturday local time, according to the U.S. Navy.

The Navy destroyer was operating about 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan, when it collided with the container ship. Most of the 300 crew members on board would have been asleep at the time, The Associated Press reported.

Weather conditions were clear at the time of the collision, the AP reported. The area is often busy with sea traffic, with as many as 400 ships passing through it every day, according to Japan’s coast guard.

The container ship made a sudden turn shortly before the collision

The route of the container ship ACX Crystal, provided by vessel-tracking service MarineTraffic, shows that the ship made a sudden turn around 1:30 a.m., as if possible trying to avoid something, before continuing eastward.

PHOTO: A screenshot provided by vessel-tracking service MarineTraffic shows the route of the container ship ACX Crystal that collided with the USS Fitzgerald in the waters southwest of Tokyo, June 16, 2017, killing seven U.S. sailors. MarineTraffic via AP
A screenshot provided by vessel-tracking service MarineTraffic shows the route of the container ship ACX Crystal that collided with the USS Fitzgerald in the waters southwest of Tokyo, June 16, 2017, killing seven U.S. sailors. more +

The ACX Crystal then made a U-turn and returned around 2:20 a.m. to the area near the collision.

It took nearly an hour for the collision to be reported

An official for Japan’s coast guard said it is investigating why it took nearly an hour for the collision to be reported, the AP reported.

The coast guard originally said the collision occurred at 2:20 a.m. because when the container ship reported the incident it at 2:25 a.m., it said the collision had just happened. The coast guard later changed the collision time to 1:30 a.m. after interviewing crewmembers aboard the container ship.

Coast guard officials are trying to get a hold of a device with communication records to further examine the details of the crash, which is also being investigated by Japan’s Transport Safety Board.

The U.S. Navy said it is sticking with the 2:20 a.m. timing for the crash that had been reported by the USS Fitzgerald, according to the AP.

A spokeswoman for the NYK Line, the ship’s operator, agreed with the earlier timing, but she could not provide details about what the ship was doing for the 50 minutes between the time of the collision and when it was reported.

7 sailors were killed

Initially after the collision, five sailors aboard the USS Fitzgerald were reported injured and seven sailors were reported missing. The remains of the missing sailors were later found in the berthing compartments, which were flooded.

The deceased sailors were identified as: Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, of Palmyra, Virginia; Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, of San Diego; Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, of Oakville, Connecticut; Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, of Weslaco, Texas; Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, of Chula Vista, California; Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, of Halethorpe, Maryland; and Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, of Elyria, Ohio.

PHOTO: The seven U.S. sailors who died in a collision between the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship off Japan, June 17, 2017.U.S. Navy via AP
The seven U.S. sailors who died in a collision between the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship off Japan, June 17, 2017.

The victims may have been killed by the impact of the collision or drowned in the flooding, Navy spokesman Lt. Paul Newman said, according to the AP.

Four sailors and the ship’s commanding officer were medically evacuated by a Japanese coast guard helicopter, Cmdr. Richard Gourley of the U.S. Naval Forces Japan said. The 7th fleet later confirmed that the sailors were in stable condition and were being treated for lacerations and bruises at the Naval Hospital Yokosuka.

The captain of the Fitzgerald, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, suffered a head injury in the collision.

Raleigh, North Carolina, resident Mia Sykes told the AP that her son, Brayden Harden, 19, was knocked out of his bunk by the impact of the crash, and that water immediately began filling the berth.

Harden tried to save his shipmates by diving back down until the flooded berth began running out of air pockets, Sykes said.

Sykes said her son told her that four men in his berth died, including those sleeping in bunks below and above him. Three men in the berth above his died as well, Sykes said her son told her.

The warship sustained ‘extensive’ damage

The USS Fitzgerald sustained damage on its starboard side and experienced flooded in some spaces as a result of the collision, according to the Navy.

At a news conference Sunday, Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin of the 7th Fleet described the damage as “extensive.” One side of the destroyer suffered a big puncture and gash below the waterline, and three compartments were severely damaged, Aucoin said.

“The water flow is tremendous, and so there wasn’t a lot of time in those spaces that were open to the sea…,” he said. “They had to fight the ship to keep it above the surface. It was traumatic.”

PHOTO: The damaged side of USS Fitzgerald at the U.S. Naval base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo, June 18, 2017. Eugene Hoshiko/AP
The damaged side of USS Fitzgerald at the U.S. Naval base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo, June 18, 2017.

While the ship will require “significant repair,” it is “salvageable,” Aucoin said, adding that he hopes the repairs take less than a year.

The container ship’s left bow was dented and scraped in the collision as well.

PHOTO: The container ship ACX Crystal with its left bow dented and scraped after colliding with the USS Fitzgerald in the waters off the Izu Peninsula, is berthed at the Oi Container Terminal in Tokyo, June 17, 2017.Hitoshi Takano/Kyodo News via AP
The container ship ACX Crystal with its left bow dented and scraped after colliding with the USS Fitzgerald in the waters off the Izu Peninsula, is berthed at the Oi Container Terminal in Tokyo, June 17, 2017.more +
PHOTO: The container ship ACX Crystal with its left bow dented and scraped after colliding with the USS Fitzgerald in the waters off the Izu Peninsula on June 17, 2017, is berthed at the Yokohama port near Tokyo, June 19, 2017.
Hiroshi Kashimura/Kyodo News via AP
The container ship ACX Crystal with its left bow dented and scraped after colliding with the USS Fitzgerald in the waters off the Izu Peninsula on June 17, 2017, is berthed at the Yokohama port near Tokyo, June 19, 2017. more +

The damage to the destroyer may suggest that the container ship slammed into it at a high speed, according to The AP.

What we still don’t know

It is unclear whether there were any warning signs leading up to the collision, and authorities have not speculated on the cause of the crash.

Although weather conditions were clear at the time of the collision, the fast currents and high-traffic area could make it tricky to navigate.

It is also unclear whether the sudden turn taken by the shipping container contributed to the collision.

ABC News’ Luis Martinez and Elizabeth McLaughlin contributed to this story, which was supplemented with reporting by The Associated Press.

Russian warning after US downs Syrian jet

An F/A-18E Super Hornet (similar to the one pictured) shot down the Syrian plane© Getty Images An F/A-18E Super Hornet (similar to the one pictured) shot down the Syrian plane Russia has warned the US-led coalition fighting in Syria that it will view its aircraft as targets, after a Syrian military plane was shot down.

The coalition said it had shot down the Syrian SU-22 after it bombed US-backed rebels in Raqqa province on Sunday.

Russia, Syria’s main ally, said it was also halting communication with the US aimed at preventing air incidents.

Syria condemned America’s “flagrant attack”, saying it would have “dangerous repercussions”.

“Any aircraft, including planes and drones belonging to the international coalition operating west of the Euphrates river, will be tracked by Russian anti-aircraft forces in the sky and on the ground and treated as targets,” the Russian defence ministry said.

It denied the US had used a communications channel before the SU-22 fighter bomber was downed.

The memorandum of co-operation with the coalition aimed at preventing air incidents and guaranteeing flight safety was ending as of Monday, the defence ministry added.

What does this signify? Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence and diplomatic correspondent

The downing of a Syrian warplane by a US jet threatens to draw Washington further into the Syrian fighting.

The US has already attacked pro-government forces on the ground after they entered an exclusion zone designed to protect US personnel training and advising anti-government rebels near Syria’s border with Iraq.

Now Washington is extending this protection to forces that it backs who are engaged in the offensive against Raqqa. These local, tactical steps inevitably could have strategic implications creating a further source of friction between Washington and Tehran.

Iran’s focus is increasingly on the border region between Syria and Iraq. The struggle for control of this crucial territory is becoming ever more dangerous.

Iran’s own missile strikes against what it says are IS targets underscores Tehran’s willingness to act in defence of its own interests in Syria.

The co-operation had been halted after the US launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria’s Shayrat airbase in April in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town in Idlib province.

But the US and Russia had agreed to resume communications last month.

The SU-22 fighter bomber was engaged by an F/A-18E Super Hornet after it had dropped bombs near the town of Tabqa in Raqqa province on Sunday afternoon, the Pentagon said.

It is believed to be the first air-to-air kill of a manned aircraft by a US military jet since the Kosovo campaign in 1999.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were operating in the Tabqa area.

The SDF have been fighting Islamic State militants as part of a drive to retake the city of Raqqa, the IS stronghold further to the east.

Map showing control of Iraq and Syria (31 May 2017)

© BBC Map showing control of Iraq and Syria (31 May 2017) A statement from the US-led coalition’s Operation Inherent Resolve said pro-government militiamen had attacked SDF units, driving them from the town of Ja’Din.

The US-led coalition conducted what it said was a “show of force” – a reported buzzing of the pro-government troops by jets – to stop the attack and then called Russia to try to “de-escalate the situation and stop the firing”.

However, the SU-22 dropped bombs on SDF positions a few hours later, the coalition said, and “in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defence of coalition-partnered forces [the plane] was immediately shot down”.

Attempts to warn the plane away using an emergency radio frequency failed, the US Central Command said.

The coalition statement added: “The demonstrated hostile intent and actions of pro-regime forces toward Coalition and partner forces in Syria conducting legitimate counter-Isis [IS] operations will not be tolerated.”

The coalition, it added, did “not seek to fight the Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend coalition or partner forces from any threat”.

The Syrian army said its warplane had been on a mission against IS when it came under fire, according to state television.

It said the incident would have “dangerous repercussions” on efforts to fight terrorism.

An army statement said the pilot of the plane was missing.

Although this is the first time the coalition has shot down a Syrian jet, there have been an increasing number of incidents between the two sides:

In a separate incident on Sunday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said they had launched several missiles from Iran into eastern Syria, targeting IS fighters.

The Guards said they had fired mid-range ground-to-ground missiles from western Iran targeting “the headquarters and meeting place and suicide car assembly line” of “IS terrorists” in Deir al-Zour province.

A “large number” of militants were killed and equipment and weapons were destroyed, the Guards said.

The missiles were apparently in response to an IS-claimed attack on the Iranian parliament earlier this month which killed more than a dozen people.

“The spilling of any pure blood will not go unanswered,” a Guards statement said.

Iran has been a key ally of President Assad, sending military advisers and thousands of “volunteer” troops.

Admiral, seven others charged with corruption in new ‘Fat Leonard’ indictment

Rear Adm. Bruce F. Loveless © Navy Rear Adm. Bruce F. Loveless The Justice Department unsealed a fresh indictment Tuesday charging eight current and former Navy officials — including an admiral — with corruption and other crimes in the “Fat Leonard” bribery case, escalating an epic scandal that has dogged the Navy for the past four years.

Among those charged were Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, a senior Navy intelligence officer based at the Pentagon, several Navy captains and a retired colonel from the Marine Corps. The charges cover a period of eight years, from 2006 through 2014.

The Navy personnel are accused of taking bribes in the form of lavish gifts, prostitutes and luxury hotel stays courtesy of Leonard Glenn Francis, a Singapore-based defense contractor who has already pleaded guilty to defrauding the Navy of tens of millions of dollars.

The indictment lists page after page of bribes allegedly consumed by the defendants — seven senior officers and one enlisted sailor — including $25,000 watches, $2,000 boxes of Cohiba cigars, $2,000 bottles of cognac and $600-per-night hotel rooms.

According to the charging documents, Francis also frequently sponsored wild sex parties for many officers on the USS Blue Ridge, the flagship of the Navy’s 7th Fleet, and other warships.

During a port visit by the Blue Ridge to Manila in May 2008, for example, five of the Navy officers attended a “raging multi-day party, with a rotating carousel of prostitutes,” at the Shangri-La Hotel, according to the indictment. The group allegedly drank the hotel’s entire supply of Dom Perignon champagne and rang up expenses exceeding $50,000, which Francis covered in full.

On another port visit by the Blue Ridge to Manila in February 2007, Francis allegedly hosted another sex party for officers in the MacArthur Suite of the Manila hotel. During the party, “historical memorabilia related to General Douglas MacArthur were used by the participants in sexual acts,” according to the indictment.

In exchange, according to federal prosecutors, the officials provided Francis with classified or inside information that enabled his firm, Glenn Marine Defense Asia, to gouge the Navy out of tens of millions of dollars.

In addition to Loveless, others charged in the indictment are three retired captains: David Lausman, Donald Hornbeck and David Newland; an active-duty captain, James Dolan; a retired Marine colonel, Enrico de Guzman; an active-duty commander, Stephen F. Shedd; and Robert Gorsuch, a retired chief warrant officer. None could immediately be reached for comment.

All were charged with offenses stemming from deployments to Asia while they were assigned to the 7th Fleet, based in Japan.

The indictment brings the total number of people charged with crimes in the Fat Leonard investigation to 27. Prosecutors say the case is still unfolding and that more than 200 people have come under scrutiny.